Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Traditional Entertainments

Back to basics
So it's back to school, and back to the same old games. There have been a couple good live blogs today covering the return of PMQs. It says something for the renewed interest in matters political in the aftermath of the non existent general election that the sound was turned up in the pub in the Surrey hills where I was grabbing some lunch, to hear the dour one receive, what seemed by common consent, his well deserved kicking.

Most media reaction seems to have been that Cameron scored some points, but the invitation by Bob Neill for Brown to visit a bottle bank in his constituency seems to be the most widely quoted jibe. There were the inevitable sufferers of leftism who seem to have been watching a different contest, especially among those commenting over at Political Betting, but in reality Brown would know he had lost this round before he rose to the dispatch box. To be fair, Brown had managed to improve his PMQs outings after his poor debut, but right at the moment he looks as if he is back to square one.

It was a pretty effective line by Cameron, though as Shane Greer's live blog points out, there were possibly a couple of easy punches that were spurned.

Despite enjoying the performance, and being personally happy to see Brown getting beaten up like this on a weekly basis, I do think it's maybe time to move on now for Cameron and rise above this line. The areas of the media that are normally somewhat hostile, but gave Cameron a fair hearing over the conference season, did so, as far as I can see, largely because of the power of the way arguments were put over, not least by Cameron himself, and because a positive agenda was being put forward.

PMQs is obviously not the best forum for advancing opposition policies, and it is there mainly as an opportunity to bring the spotlight on the failings of government policy and its actions. That said, it can be done in a way that seems considered and statesmanlike, and too many knockabout sessions like this may distract the media's attention for more positive Conservative developments.

In the end, the 'bottling' lines will start to wear thin, as even the best of jokes do through over telling. They are still a nice jab to be landed now and again, but any collection of half-articulate back benchers high enough up the PMQs batting order would be more capable of keeping this particular wound open.

To continually look for fresh lines of attack, or even wrong-footing lines of support must be the way forward for Cameron.

The Prime Minister is, without doubt, a very intelligent man, but that is not the same as being a quick thinker on his feet, as his first PMQs outing showed. Give him enough time on one topic and he will find a way to spin himself out of trouble, even on occasion within a single session. I prefer the approach where the leader of opposition's questions are split across two or more distinct subjects, tackled with a varying delivery from outright hostility, to constructive criticism, as it denies the Prime Minister the chance to build up a head of steam and move the debate on to ground that is more fertile for spin.

Still, it was entertaining to see a return of Punch and Judy politics, even if I hope it is only temporary, and as someone generally, even increasingly sympathetic to the Cameron cause, it was good to see who clearly held the big stick.

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